At the end of July, following family camp, the kids and I left for Oklahoma to find housing and to buy Jo a horse, a manipulating bribe to get her to move. We traveled in a crew-cab truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer that we bought to facilitate our journey and for projected weekends exploring cowboy territory. I felt like a cowgirl bounding down the highway, bouncing about in my stallion cab. Upon arriving, the three of us bumped down a dusty dirt trail to meet a tall horse-trading Oklahoman. He hailed us, leaning on his split rail fence, a sprig of wheat stuck in his teeth. As the dust settled from our entrance, we climbed out of the cab, and he drawled, “Howdy!” Our first Oklahoma hello.
He touched his hat in greeting, but when we, according to California custom, offered our hands to shake, he obliged with a leathered paw. He said, “So this little lady wants to get herself a horse.”
Jo’s gaze started at his scuffed cowboy boots, traveled up his worn jeans, stopped to figure out what his belt buckle said, “Oklahoma, #1”, continued over his blue gingham shirt with pearlized buttons, across his craggy, smiling face, and reached his Stetson. She smiled big and said, “Yes.” I could see why they call Oklahoma cowboys “tall drinks of water,” because he was refreshing. As Jo told him what she wanted, he pushed his cowboy hat off his forehead, revealing white skin sleeping on top of the darkened tan line. He must have been a sight at the dinner table, but he was our man.
He scratched his head and said, “I think I’ve got just what you need. Wait right here.” He disappeared around the side of an open-air stable and came back leading a gentle gelding, light brown with stocking feet and a star blazing on its forehead. “His name is Doheny.”
“Doheny!” Jo sounded less than pleased.
The Oklahoman slapped Doheny’s withers, to which the horse simply twitched its haunch and turned to look with large soulful eyes at the one administering the slap. “Yup.” The Oklahoman said, “Doheny. He’s a horse with papers.”
“Oh. Then I can call him anything I want.” Jo stated.
“Sure can. Doheny is only his registered name.”
We arranged to have ‘Do’ delivered to a stable Jo had chosen near our house, nudging the Arkansas River, and a longed-for friendship between horse and rider began. JJ, unenamored by a time-consuming horse, came to help get us settled, but he intended to return to the University of California. In comparison to Santa Barbara, Oklahoma seemed tepid, at best. I thought the Lord wanted JJ to attend a University nearby, O.R.U., but he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Not this year, anyway.
The house we rented had been empty for some time, locked up, musty, and suffocating! I parked the camper on the pad in the sweltering backyard; it seems all Oklahomans have a camper, and every house has a pad. Until we could hook up the electricity and rent some furniture, we lay like slugs on the living room floor overcome by the oppressing heat.
John joined us just before school started. Convinced our entrance to Bible school marked an impressive turn redirecting our lives, I said to him, “I really think you ought to call the school and tell them you were once involved in homosexual activity.”
“Why should I do that?” he asked incredulously.
“Because they asked everything else on their application. They want to know the past history of every student coming in, and it seems to me if you don’t, then you will be hiding something. I think you ought to enter this experience clean, prepared to become a different man, to become a real man of God.”
“Okay,” he said cavalierly, “I’ll do it.” He dialed the number and asked for the Dean. Several other people came on the line offering to help, but he declined, said it was very personal, and he needed to speak directly to the Dean. I sat listening, my own reactions popping up as John proceeded and responded to the Dean.
“Hello, Dean Radford?”
“I’m one of your new students; I’ll be registering next week. There was something I did not include on my application, it’s been bothering me, and I wanted to tell you personally, but it’s not something the whole world should know.”
“I used to be involved in homosexual activity.”
“It’s been over ten years.”
John nodded his head to the Dean’s commentary, “Un-huh.”
“I agree. But like I said, I didn’t want to be hiding anything.”
“Well, thank you very much.”
“Yes, I look forward to meeting you as well.”
I lifted my hands questioningly, “Well?”
“The Dean told me to forget it. He said after ten years, it no longer exists. He sounds like a real nice guy. I’m glad I called.”
“John, it’s only been seven years,” I corrected.
“Seven, ten, what’s the difference?” John went humming off into the next room.
Quelling my internal ticks, I thought, “Well, if Rhema thinks it no longer exists, then I should think it no longer exists.” But a woman knows when she isn’t loved, and I wasn’t. Maybe something was wrong with me.
The excitement of attending school and meeting people who came from all over the country superseded such thoughts in my mind. The school sprawled on a campus with acres of manicured lawns and planted flowerbeds that changed almost monthly. Large auditoriums operated as classrooms, soldiering hundreds of chairs arranged in precise rows. Exacting classes imparted excellence. Students wore nametags and hurried from class to class in character-building obedience.
Our friends evolved out of those sitting near us in our assigned seats. None of us felt we had been placed there randomly, but by divine selection, as we weren’t in alphabetical order. The friends we made were the friends we needed, and I needed Nancy. She came to Rhema right after a debilitating divorce. “You need a mother,” I said, putting my arm around her. “I’m going to be your mother.” Nancy became a member of the family, but she mothered me far more than I mothered her.
Our cluster of friends bonded, chatting before class, and meeting at the weekend Holy Ghost evening events organized by some of the staff. Like a starving child I gobbled up these high spiritual moments. I hoped these moments would help John; I hoped all of it would help John. It should have helped John.
An optional course offered by Rhema was called Prayer School. Having spent two hours a day in prayer for five years, I thought I was a hotshot pray-er. But when I entered that course, I saw I was a babe in arms. These people were way out in the Spirit, galloping beyond me. I wanted what they had, desperately, so I pressed in, energetically praying, and one afternoon I arrived where they were.
As if being catapulted into another realm, I arrived at a special place in the heavenlies. My awareness no longer came from my senses or my mind. I seemed to know everything all at once, as if wisdom enveloped me with total comprehension. There I had a vision. I saw two leather shoes walking through a field of grain. I knew the person in these shoes carried the Gospel, and I knew I was the person in the shoes. Though wing-tipped like a man’s, these shoes were feminine. Since then, I have looked for a pair in every shoe store I enter, but I have not found them.
I asked the Lord where this vision was. It elongated to show me the outline of France. It had never occurred to me that we had gone to Bible School to prepare for any form of ministry. I thought we would go back to California (we only rented our house to friends), and John would be an administrator for some ministry, and I would teach the Bible.
Before leaving for Oklahoma, I dreamed I was standing in a street when the Lord approached me. He asked me to open a certain theater, as He wanted to deliver an important message. I opened the door and rushed in, taking the center seat in the seventh row of the empty theater, eager to hear His message. He appeared on stage and told me I didn’t understand. I must fill the theater.
Impatient at having to wait, I took a roll of tickets, stood in the street, and passed them out to people to come in and hear from God. With the theater filled I complained to the Lord as no seat had been reserved for me. He took me backstage and stood me before the curtain. He said I would give the important message. Terrified, I said I didn’t know any important message. He told me He would be standing right beside me whispering in my ear, telling me what to say. Then He opened the curtain.
The next day, without telling him about my dream, I asked my pastor to pray for me to discern what direction the Lord had for me to take. After a few days, my pastor told me all he could see in the Spirit was me standing behind a pulpit. So I assumed I would do women’s Bible studies, or teach Sunday school classes. But in France? Never! The prospect disgusted me as I hated that country. Years before, traveling with my mother, we visited France, and I decided if I never went back, it would be too soon. The French were rude, crude, and unrefined, arrogant, and demonstrated themselves to be a nation of blatant misogynists. I decided that with the rest of the world left to explore, I had no need to return to a country filled with such unwarranted pride. Let them insult someone else!
However, John had family there, being the son of French emigrants, and he spoke the language. So between our first and second years of Bible School, we took our kids, flew to Brussels, saving money that way, rented a car for a month, traveled a bit, visited family, and spied out the land. We enjoyed a fabulous family vacation unconscious of the grinding, changing gears this mild holiday would bring to our Bible-school sedated lives.
Loving relatives cocooned us like a happy baby cuddles in a happy lap. John’s family came from the Lot—a poverty-minded region, which condition it came by honestly due to rocky soil and unemployed youth standing around the antiquated fountain every night until the blaring nightclub opened. His cousin’s house dated over 150 years old, as witnessed by the year scrawled into the cement. We entered gingerly as if something that old would collapse. However, imposing solid stone walls formed a sturdy fortress, and we relaxed in a country manor house crammed with a dozen darkened little rooms. Even though the cousins were third-cousins, they greeted John like a brother. In France family is family.
At a sumptuous lunch, where we thought the first course comprised the meal and therefore devoured it, then had to make room for four more well-supplied courses, my kids whispered to me, “We’re not staying here, are we?!” I smiled my encouragement. Stay we did, in sagging beds older than the house; in fact, the house became our trysting place as we forayed into other parts of France. We drank milk from the neighbor’s cow, ate bread from the baker’s brick oven, fried eggs from the next door chickens, attended the local parties, my kids met the French kids, laughed at their attempts to speak English, and blushed at their own attempts to speak French, at which the French kids laughed. The summer seemed to be flying by, and before we got pushed out of the happy lap, I needed to make some connections.
I had one phone number to call, a ministry in Nice, which might give us information of meetings in the part of France where we stayed. With tourist naiveté I walked to the pay phone holding five one franc coins. I put one franc in the slot and dialed my number. Somebody answered and said something in French. “Do you speak English?” I blurted.
To my delight a rounded British accent responded, “Yes, I do.”
“Oh, what a relief! My name is Marty, and Rhema Bible School recommended that I call you.” And click. The phone went dead.
I put in another franc. “Hello,” he said, “these French phones are tricky. I’m glad you called back. I’m a graduate of that school, and I presume you are too.”
“I’m a student; I’ll be entering second year this fall,” I said.
“Well, I’d love to meet you. How long are you going to be . . .” and click.
The third franc went into the obliging phone. This time he didn’t say hello, just “I’ve pioneered a church in Nice. I’ve been here about six years now. If you have the time, why not drive down and meet me and see the church?”
I said, “I’m calling you from Varaire near Cahors, how far away are you from where I am?”
“Cahors in the southwest?” he asked.
“Yes.” We sped through our conversation.
“That’s about an eight hour drive . . .” and click.
By the fourth franc, I desperately cut him off. “Thank you. That’s a lovely invitation. I’d love to do it, but that’s a long drive, and I’ll have to speak with my husband about adding that to our itinerary. In the meantime, I was hoping you could tell me of any meetings that might be around here that we could attend. Is there anything at all going on in the Lot district?”
“Hmmm,” he mused, “I’ll have to think . . .”
On the fifth and final franc he said, “Yes, there is something starting on the 21st of July in Brive, some sort of camping thing. I’m told it’s good, but I’ve never been. Why don’t you go, then drive on down here and tell me about it?”
“That’s a great idea! I’ll give you a call back. You’ve been very helpful, and I hope to see you . . .” and click.
On the mentioned date as we entered Brive, a charming town of about 30,000 people, the Lord told me to turn right, turn right again, and to go down a little alley. There on a utility pole hung a school paper scrawled with the words “Sud-Ouest Convention.” We drove into an empty campground as everyone had gone to the meeting, which was just about to begin. We entered the auditorium and were greeted by an English couple, about our age. She offered to translate for me. Her whispering in my ear seemed to thunder in the hall, and people turned to give us “quiet down” stares.
The young man preaching proclaimed a bold message, and afterwards told the crowd, “Okay, now we are going to believe for miracles.” He asked for anyone wanting a miracle to come forward for prayer. About twenty of the two hundred or more people attending went forward and shyly formed a line. Then he asked if anyone thought they could pray for miracles, to come up and pray for these who had come forward.
Having never heard a preacher with such guts, I was sitting there with my mouth open when the English woman poked me in the ribs, “You look like you could pray for miracles.”
She grabbed my arm and took me forward, saying she would interpret for me. A young woman was directed toward me, I prayed; she began weeping and ended by falling in the Spirit, which sent a little wave of reaction through the crowd. Frankly, I don’t know what happened to her, but she smiled at me after it was all over and seemed happy with whatever had transpired.
The young preacher approached me and asked in perfect English, “Who are you?” as if he thought I was someone famous.
When I said, “We’re students at Rhema Bible School,” he went pale, sucked in his breath and staggered backwards as if I had hit him with my fist.
“What are you doing here in France?”
“We’re taking a spy trip as I believe God wants us to move here and work in the ministry.”
He paused a moment as if searching for words, and then said, “I’ve been praying for two and a half years for someone to come from Rhema to teach us. That school has a message the whole world needs to hear! Would you come work with me?”
I reacted by saying, “You’re just as bold offstage as you are on. I like that. Yes, we will.”
“Good. Can you come back tonight so I can introduce you to the crowd?”
As quick as that, we had a destiny!